cover image Jane and the Wandering Eye: Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery

Jane and the Wandering Eye: Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery

Stephanie Barron. Bantam Books, $22.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10204-8

Barron seamlessly weaves historical artists and actors into the third Jane Austen mystery (Jane and the Man of the Cloth, 1996), a delightful and lively tale that hinges on mistaken identity and unrequited love. Jane and the enigmatic Lord Harold Trowbridge investigate the murder of Richard Portal, manager of Bath's Theatre Royal, during a Christmastime masquerade at the home of the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough. Simon Marquis of Kinsfel, the Duchess's grandson and Trowbridge's nephew, is arrested. Readers know he's innocent, but not who did it or why. Essential to the solution is identification of an ""eye portrait"" found on the victim (carrying a miniature of a loved one's eye was a contemporary fad). An important subtext is the history of the famous Kemble/Siddons acting family. Suspicions alternate among those with possible motives: Lord Swithin, the rejected suitor of Kinsfel's sister Desdemona; actor Hugh Coyningham and his actress sister Maria; Hugh's workman, Smythe; Desdemona's newest swain, Colonel Easton; even portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence. The crime, orchestrated by a clever murderer to kill one enemy and implicate others, is solved when Lord Harold realizes, ""Appearances are everything,"" and Jane amends, ""Even, perhaps, when they are meant to deceive."" Period details bring immediacy to a neatly choreographed dance through Bath society led by this astute, well-matched pair. (Jan.)